Category Archives: 2600

The Secret History of Star Raiders

Back in the stone age days of the Atari 2600, when it was the videogame system, there was one game that stood out away from the rest, and not for any good reasons. That was Star Raiders.

Everyone had Star Raiders, but I don’t think anyone liked it, or even played it. Ninety-nine percent of all Atari games used either a joystick or a paddle controller, but not Star Raiders. It had a big number pad controller with a phone cord like cord. As an oddity it stood out, and as I said, I didn’t know anyone who played it, maybe because it was a bit difficult to play or to understand how to play. My Atari is long ago stored away, and I’m not digging it up any time soon to check it out – so forget that noise.

But the facts are of course that Star Raiders predates the Atari 2600, and goes back to the Atari 400 and 800, and the Atari 8-bit family of games. Yeah, this is one of the ancestors. Star Raiders may have been crippled by the limiting graphics of the 2600, or at least that’s what my computer geek friends tell me. I have also been told that it was the precursor to later games that I have enjoyed like Starmaster and the Star Trek arcade game, and even Wing Commander. The original SR even borrowed itself from Trek, Star Wars, and even Battlestar Galactica in its own designs. Man, I wish I remembered this game better, or at least played it.

Now imagine my surprise when I saw Star Raiders listed as a free download at the PlayStation Store. I downloaded it but only remembering it vaguely from childhood I didn’t play right away. After learning more about it, I was eager to play and jumped right to it.

Wow, the visuals are something else, but man, the controller directions are among the most complicated I have seen so far for the PS3. Steering was insane, but the format was eerily similar to favorite games like those mentioned above, Starmaster and Star Trek. It was very cool. I will have to learn more. I’m sure it will be worth it. And I actually feel a little bad I didn’t put more time in with the 2600 version.

Pac-Man from Hell

Now I know Pac-Man. Heck, we all know Pac-Man. This thing, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, that I downloaded from the PlayStation Store is not Pac-Man. I don’t know what the hell it is, but it scares me, it scares my heart, my poor poor pacemakered heart.

The board is horizontal, rather than vertical, much like the Atari 2600 Pac-Man game. Unlike that version, this does look like Pac-Man, and the graphics are very precise and very vibrant. Psychedelic acid trip vibrant, and the music is pulse-pounding house techno that seems to get faster and the game gets more frantic. I could feel my heart beating in time to it with the pressure of the game.

There are advantages. You get bombs to blow up the ghosts, but it doesn’t really seem to help as they recover quickly, and there are ghosts everywhere, sleeping until you pass near. They just keep coming. It’s almost as if someone decided Pac-Man wasn’t hard enough, it needed to give you a nervous condition as well.

Late Night Kitchen Adventure

I have insomnia. Anyone who follows my Twitter, or my Miso which feeds into my Twitter know this, as they have watched me rip through entire seasons of television series in the dead of night. Yes, it’s true, not being able to sleep at night, the devil does make work for idle hands. I still write from time to time when I can’t sleep, watching TV on my iPhone is recent bad habit.

When I first got married, playing Atari was my can’t-sleep go-to. We inherited The Bride’s grandmother’s condo, and with it, most of her furnishings. Thus we had a tiny TV in the kitchen, one without cable. No cable, so not much point in watching it, but I got the bright idea to hook my old Atari 2600 up to it.

Now when I say ‘old’ Atari, it’s not an original system. It is one of those wannabe Gemini systems popular in the mid-1980s when Atari was having its first nostalgia resurgence. Back in the day, the Ataris I played belonged to seemingly everyone else in the world but me. This was my first Atari, circa 1985. The months after the purchase were spent madly collecting old 2600 games I loved years earlier at places like decrepit K-Marts, dead Kiddie Cities, and the Berlin Farmers Market.

One of the prizes of that game search was Adventure. Back in the day, this was the closest we had to a Dungeons & Dragons video game. There was no Warcraft, or Diablo, or even Bard’s Tale, just this great little vague pixilated game full of fun and forced imagination. This was a game with buzz, with everyone talking about what may or may not be the first videogame Easter egg – the dust speck. More on that later.

In Adventure, you were a small square that moved via joystick through a maze visiting castles of different colors seeking out keys, the sword, and finally the chalice. Along the way you had to dodge or kill the three dragons – Yorgle, Rhindle and Grundle (how’s that for having a brain that’s a vast storehouse of useless knowledge?). There was also a bridge that allowed you to pass through obstacles, and the mysterious dust speck hidden in the wall that led you to the game designer’s credit. Now that’s what the dust speck really did, although there was much speculation as to its other abilities.

It’s a fun but simple game, and by simple I don’t mean to imply easy at all. There was quite a lot of difficulty to it. And there still is. I play it today on my iPhone with the Atari’s Greatest Hits app. I miss the days of the original Atari, except for waiting my turn, which was maddening with Adventure, but most of all, I miss my insomniac late night kitchen adventures, they were the best.